Sadly I never met my paternal grandmother, she died of breast cancer when my dad was sixteen. My maternal grandmother is still alive but she never actively engaged with me as a child and as a young adult I have never felt exactly akin. I therefore feel somewhat cheated of a grandmother. However, I have been fortunate to have been surrounded by some remarkable ladies from older generations who I have openly referred to as grandmother-figures or adopted grandmothers. One of these adopted grandmothers is an elegant Indian artist called Ushi. Even when she was undergoing chemotherapy and lost her hair, Ushi would wind sumptuous Indian textiles into fabric crowns and coordinate them impeccably with her shalwar kameez (or salwar kameez). Besides her family, her life passions are art, clothes and jewellery. How on earth she has managed to find Uniqlo jeans to perfectly match pieces of jewellery her husband bought her over forty years ago is beyond me.
Ushi has taught me many things, amongst her advice on relationships, art and health I have extracted this jewel to contemplate: clothes and jewellery do not have fixed rules, they are to be experimented with. There must have been only a few occasions when we have met and I have not been enthralled by a piece of her jewellery or how she has composed a costume. Whenever I have commented on what she has worn there has inevitably been a story needed to be told. She explains how a bracelet began as a necklace but she found it too heavy so she turned each strand into individual items, each one for a grandchild. There are rings that have been reset or melted numerous times to become joined or separated in accordance with Ushi’s artistic inspiration. In her mind, jewellery as worn by the previous owner, may have suited them but might not match her tastes or needs. To avoid these pieces becoming obsolete it is therefore necessary for them to be recast and reincarnated.
In the UK I feel that too many women wear the same pieces of jewellery day-in-day-out, often not taking it off for bed. With the exception of wedding and signet rings I feel this is boring to the point of thoughtless. This has not always been the case. On a visit to ‘The Cheapside Hoard’ exhibition at the Museum of London there were a number of examples of necklaces or tiaras from the late 16th and early 17th century where components could be removed, added or twisted to alter the piece’s look or use. Does this reflect the life of the modern woman? Some women I admire say they love certain pieces because they go with everything. Are we now too rushed in the morning going to work or dashing out to the gym or school run to spare an extra moment to think of exchanging our earrings or bracelet for an alternative? I challenge you to swap just one piece every other day and sense the refreshment you get.
Other women have mentioned they could not bear to remove a particular adornment from their body because it holds such a high sentimental value. Ushi and my argument would be that by resetting or moulding something new from a beloved treasure, the treasure is adapting and moving with your life.
For once, I am a practitioner of what I preach. Whilst studying in China my dad came with his new wife Jill to visit. Jill was on the hunt for cheap strings of pearls. In the alleys of Shanghai’s Tianzifang (formerly Taikang Lu) we found a small emporium. Thanks to my limited second year uni Chinese skills I managed to negotiate a mutually agreeable price for a string Jill liked. By way of thanks my dad purchased a delicate triple string of the smallest pearls I have ever seen, twisted around my neck the beads glossy nature transported me to sundowners on some imaginary beach. As bought, they were simple enough to match most outfits and small enough to suit my young skin and petite frame. For my birthday just gone, my brother gave me a stunning jade elephant pendant salvaged from the Tek Sing wreck he found in an antiques shop whilst visiting our dad in his hometown of York. I loved it but had no idea how I was going to wear it.
After a number of nights pondering and sketching in my head I had the idea of attaching the pendant to the pearl necklace my dad had given to me two years previously. I took the separate components in to Bolder & Co in Richmond, London, to see if they could restring the necklace for me. The girls in there were so delightful, not to mention helpful. They loved my idea and suggested putting a jump ring through the whole in the pendant so I could slip it on and off the necklace. This meant I could not only consider further about securing the elephant for good on to the necklace but hang it on to other chains. The union could not be more perfect: two entirely separate pieces from China have been brought together thanks to serendipity by the men in my family. Now I can wear these tokens from them at the same time.
 The Tek Sing (Chinese, “True Star”) was a large three-masted Chines- ocean-going junk which sank on February 6 1822 in an area of the South China Sea Sea known as the Belvideere Shoals. Sailing from the port of Amoy (now Xiamen, China), the Tek Sing was bound for Batavia, Dutch East Indies (now Jakarta, Indonesia) laden with a large cargo of porcelain goods and 1600 Chinese immigrants. After a month of sailing, the Tek Sing’s captain attempted a shortcut and ran aground on a reef. On May 12, 1999, British marine salvor Michae Hatcher discovered the wreck of the Tek Sing in an area of the South China Sea north of Java, east of Sumatra and south of Singapore. His crew raised about 350,000 pieces of the ship’s cargo in what is described as the largest sunken cache of Chinese porcelain ever recovered.